Cascadian Farm Organic | Our Farm | Farm Blog | Thanksgiving Turkey
How to Choose Your Thanksgiving Turkey
Shaina Olmanson

The practice of choosing a turkey is dependent on a few factors: where to source it from, what you're looking for, the number of people you're trying to feed. It can be a confusing process with all the new labeling going on, especially if you aren't the one who has done the turkey roasting in the past. 

By the Pound
While bigger might seem better, especially if you like leftovers, larger turkeys take more room to store in the refrigerator and more room to cook in a roasting pan and oven. Be sure you have the space in a cooler or refrigerator before going big. 
Once you know you have the space, you need to think about your guest count. Turkeys have more meat on the bone as they get bigger. A good rule of thumb is to plan 1 – 1.5 pounds per person on birds over the 15-pound mark. Under the 15-pound mark, you'll want to plan for about 2 pounds of turkey per person.

Fresh vs. Frozen vs. "Not Previously Frozen"
Fresh turkeys can be labeled as such if they have never been stored below 26ºF, the temperature at which turkey meat freezes. Frozen are stored below 0ºF, and the grey area in between, 26ºF to 0ºF, are birds labeled as "not previously frozen" or sometimes "hard-chilled." Choosing a fresh bird will give you the best texture to the meat.

Organic or Not
Organic is always best when it can be found and afforded. You know these farmers have done their due diligence in terms of adjusting their farming practices to meet to get the necessary certification. Organic turkeys have access to the outdoors, are not given antibiotics, and eat 100% organic (non-GMO) feed. Specialty grocers and Whole Foods will often carry organic varieties.
If you aren't going to go organic, several premium brand turkey producers have made the commitment to put out a product that uses no animal byproducts in the feed, no hormones, and even no antibiotics. Check by the brand for their specific practices if you go this route.
    
Local Farmers
The case for local is a strong one. Eating locally makes sense on several levels. The food travels less distance to get to you, reducing the carbon footprint. Small local farmers tend have more sustainable farming practices in general than their commercial counterparts. Supporting local farmers bolsters the economy in your community. Sometimes smaller local farmers won't have organic certification, but you can generally call them or check out their website, if they have one, to get a better idea of their farming practices and how the birds are raised. 
To find a local farmer, check out your local farmers market, co-op, or green grocer. They will often have pre-order lists where you can sign up for your size bird and arrange to pick it up at a designated time. You can also check www.localharvest.org to locate a farmer near you.

A Few More Poultry Facts to Consider
Natural means the turkey doesn't contain additives or solutions or artificial colors. It is minimally processed. Heritage and organic turkeys are often sold as natural. Natural has no bearing on how a bird was raised.
Kosher turkeys are raised in accordance with kosher practices of cleanliness and under a rabbi's supervision. They are salted in order to achieve kosher certification, so they come pre-seasoned in that way. They end up being moist and tender from the salt brine as it alters the structure or proteins and helps the turkey to retain moisture as it cooks. However, you have no control over the level of salt with this option.
Self-basting and Injected turkeys are those that have been treated with a salt solution, brine, or flavor injection. While this can help keep a bird from drying out, you have no control over what's in that solution or brine. These birds are often conventionally raised and may lack in turkey flavor and texture.
Heritage breed turkeys generally have darker, more flavorful meat and smaller breasts. Most conventionally raised turkeys and nearly all supermarket varieties will be one breed of bird, the Broad-Breasted White. Heritage birds retain characteristics of wild turkey breeds and take longer to raise, which gives them distinct flavor differences.


Now that you know the terminology, you can decide what factors are most important to you and set out to find the bird for your Thanksgiving gathering.  With the bird in your possession, it's time to roast and eat. Happy Thanksgiving!

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